Look into any dinner wagon of any household and you will surely see sitting there among all the new and grand dinner sets some humble and worn looking china displayed with pride and affection by its owner. These often chipped and stained chinaware often have much greater intrinsic value for their owners than the more grand ones sitting right next to them.
The stains of these crockery sets are like wrinkles on an old person, etched with stories and experiences. The experience of seeing days older than the present and of being handled by mothers, aunts, grandmothers -- dear to one's heart yet lost forever.
“My mother left me half of a dinner set, the other half being given to my younger sister,” says Hamida Bilquish, a 50-year-old homemaker living in Dhaka, “I remember when I was young and that dinner set was still new. I used to stare at it and touch it with great pride and apprehension whenever Amma brought it out for the special parties.”
Bilquish's dinner set has a rich history. It was one of those rare complete dinner sets in a time when such things were considered luxury goods. It was brought as an anniversary gift from London by her father for her mother and its use was strictly reserved for very special occasions.
“Today I own many complete dinner sets but none feel as 'wise' as the one given by Amma,” Bilquish explains, “When I pick up a saucer from the set I feel like it has hidden knowledge and experience which was poured into it from Amma.
“I know it might sound childish,” Bilquish says shyly, “But I can connect with my mother through this set which she once handled, once cleaned and once stowed away with care.”
Bilquish goes on to say, “Whenever I take down the dinner set I feel like I have traveled back to those days when Amma used to cook and clean in preparation for a big party and I still feel the same excitement that used to course down my body back then.”
Sweety, Bilquish's younger sister and owner of the other half of this china dinner set grins and says that she believes Bilquish has got the better half of it. “When Amma used to say that this set was going to be ours one day, me and Bilquish used to fight over who will get what. In the end she got the only soup bowl and a beautiful carved ladle, saying that since I am younger I can have them when she dies!”
Affecting offence at this accusation Bilquish declares, “What Sweety conveniently forgot to say is that she got more of the plates and soup bowls.”
Like her mother, Bilquish does not use this precious chinaware for everyday purposes or for just any occasion either. They are reserved for very special events.
“I have put them all out about three times in the 35 years that I have had them.” Bilquish says. “Once was the first dinner with my husband in our own house and the other two times were when my children brought their spouses home for the first time.”
Sweety, on the other hand uses her collection in more creative methods. “I use my inherited crockery as decorations rather than crockery per se. They give my dinner wagon an aristocratic look and on Eid day I even use one of the jugs as a flower vase to add a special touch to my table.”
Sweety goes on to say that Bilquish has not fully utilised the beauty of these chinaware.
“When I first received them I kept them soaked in warm soap water for one whole night and the next day I gave them a good scrub with vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda. That removed the water marks and the stains pretty well,” Sweety related.
“It's important to take proper care of these since they have seen heavy use.”
Bilquish says her method of cleaning and preservation is better. She uses tooth powder or vegetable oil and turmeric depending on the sensitivity and glaze of the pieces. But Bilquish does not want to get rid of all the stains as she believes that the stains add to the depth of the china's 'wisdom'.
As they kept up the good-natured banter I sat there and realised that those stained and chipped china have more to offer than mere crockery or even decorations. It acts as a bridge to these ladies to reconnect with lost times.
Looking at it lets them see their long-gone mother do her everyday work; touching it lets them feel their mother's warmth as she looked upon their safety and comfort; laying it out on the table enables them to revisit the many memories when they helped their mother.
Yes, the dinner set is 'wise' indeed. It is wise from witnessing its present owners play together, fight together, cry together and grow together until the day they metamorphosed into grown ladies and had their own separate crockery cupboards to tend to.
By Raisaa Tashnova
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
People who at one time were an extension of our own selves have now been consigned to the dusty recesses of remembrance. We look for them and often find them in objects they left behind, like an old perfume bottle belonging to a loved father, or crockery sets handed down from mother to daughter.
This week Star Lifestyle talks to two sisters who treasure the crockery sets they have inherited from their mother, and learn how the vintage chinaware offers flashes of the cherished past and helps them remember. Flip to Centre for the story.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Crockery: Personal collection, Samina Quasem
Special thanks to Samina Quasem
for helping us in arranging the photoshoot